How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes | Kanebridge News
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How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes

Layouts that thwart conversation. Furniture that’s too chunky. Rugs that are too runty. Design pros share the living-room decor mistakes they see most often and how to steer clear.

Fri, Oct 28, 2022 8:01amGrey Clock 4 min

THE RELATIVELY NARROW function of a bedroom or dining room largely dictates those spaces’ décor. A home’s communal chill chamber, however, has to be a lot of things to a lot of people: intimate and sophisticated enough for guests sipping aperitifs and cozy enough for family couch-potato Sundays. With so much asked of living rooms, the potential for decorating missteps can daunt even experts.

Nina Edwards Anker’s first principle: Start with ease—navigability, comfort, visual calm. “The worst error I see in living rooms is overcrowding,” said the founder of New York City’s Nea Studio. “Spaces, like paintings, need room to breathe.” Among her tips: Allow for ample storage to tuck away clutter. Meanwhile, Aileen Warren, of Jackson Warren Interiors in Houston, warns against filling the room with every stick of furniture on your wish list. “Be sure there’s enough space for traffic to move comfortably in and out of the seating groups,” she said.

Here, designers identify five other living-room gaffes they see far too often, and share their professional workarounds.

1. Conversation Pitfalls

“Don’t design a pretty space for a museum when living rooms are for socialising,” said Marissa Stokes, a Ramsey, N.J., designer. Novice decorators goof up here by leaving chasms between seats or, as Susan Jory points out, lining up all the furniture against the wall. “Seldom does one hold court,” said the London, Ontario, interior designer wryly.

Instead: Nurture intimacy with smart seating placement, says Kevie Murphy, of K.A. Murphy Interiors in Manhasset, N.Y. “Add [bonus-seating] ottomans under consoles, position chairs in the corners of the rooms.” A backless divan allows for “double-sided conversation,” she added. “And be sure each seated person has a table to place a drink or cocktail plate.”

2. Puny Rugs

Emily Del Bello, a New York City designer, looks askance at rooms where the carpet is too tiny to anchor more than a coffee table, while the rest of the room’s pieces float about visually untethered.

Instead: “The rug should go under all the furniture in that area, or at the very least, under the front legs of all sofas and chairs,” said Jen Samson, a Laguna Beach, Calif., designer. “This grounds the space and creates a frame [for] the area.”

For clients obsessed with vintage rugs too small for their living rooms, Katie Davis, an interior designer in Houston, layers the collectible pieces onto plenty-big neutral jutes. Some expansive advice: “Always go larger than you think,” directs Emily Williams of Z Properties, a design-build-interiors firm in Winter Park, Fla.

3. Monotony

Almost as unimaginative as a matching set of furniture is a scheme in which every piece conforms to one style, says Isabel Ladd. “When a living room is decorated completely traditional, or completely modern, the room feels stagnant,” said the Lexington, Ky., designer.

Instead: The décor should combine high and low aesthetics, says Paola Zamudio, founder and CEO at Npz Studio+ in New York City, who suggests, for example, “a designer statement piece combined with a vintage décor piece.” Disparate styles can blend within a single object as well. Linen upholstery and graphic embroidered trim can make a sofa with a traditional silhouette feel fresh, said Ms. Ladd.

4. Scale Fails

Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas, principal designer at Interiors by Design in Silver Spring, Md., warns that buying a one-and-done suite from a furniture showroom can saddle you with both a dull room and relentlessly overscale pieces. Benjamin Deaton has seen folks challenged by a small room err in the other direction, yielding to the false hope of “dollhouse furniture.” Said the Lexington, Ky., designer, “What you get is the opposite, a room that looks cluttered and still small.”

Instead: “Mixing the scale of furniture pieces can actually make the room feel larger and have more depth,” said Mr. Deaton. For those contemplating purchasing new furniture, Chicago design pro Bruce Fox recommends using blue tape to map out their footprint on your floor. To estimate their bulk in three dimensions, he suggests “piling other furniture or even empty boxes onto the footprint to mimic the height of the piece and get the full sense of scale.”

5. Dominating Overheads

One is less likely to curl up with a novel or chat for hours with friends under lights that are operating-theatre-bright.

Instead: “Lighting can change the entire landscape of the room,” said Mr. Deaton, who favours a combination of decorative lamps that double as sculpture, overhead lighting and shaded sconces that add texture and glow to a corner space.

Ms. Jory espouses dimmers: “Ambient lighting on tables and walls, paired with ceiling fixtures also on dimmers, provide a wash of warm, inviting light.”

Monster Chairs and More

Design pros recall egregious parlour schemes

“Recently, a client picked a single piece, an oversize armchair, then tried to design her entire living space around it. She realised, after hiring me, that she had to sell the armchair because it clashed with and crowded the sofa and storage cabinet we picked.” —Nina Edwards Anker, founder, Nea Studio, New York City

“The worst is when people purchase multiple pieces of furniture in the same, neutral upholstery fabric. Sure, the goal was to be cohesive, but the result is unfortunately a space that is sterile, slightly cold and without personality.” —Glenna Stone, interior designer, Philadelphia

“I usually see a massive sofa and a bunch of ditzy, underscale pieces because nothing else will fit properly.” —Liz Caan, interior designer, Boston

“I’ve seen large blowup pool toys laying about a primary living room and oversize shiny La-Z-Boys pushed into corners without anything else in the room.” —Melanie Hay, interior designer, Toronto


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Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer


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